On The Front Lines

The Rutherford Institute Claims First Amendment Victory in West Virginia University 'Free Speech Zone' Case

Nisha N. MohammedPh: (434) 978-3888, ext. 604; Pager: 800-946-4646, Pin #: 1478257Email: Nisha N. Mohammed
November 08, 2002

WVU Board of Governors Lifts Unconstitutional Requirements Regarding Free Speech

Morgantown, W.Va. -- Attorneys for The Rutherford Institute claimed victory today on behalf of the First Amendment rights of students and student-led organizations at West Virginia University following a vote by the Board of Governors to adopt a revised policy lifting restrictions of student free speech and expression on the university campus. Institute attorneys filed a lawsuit earlier this year challenging an April 2002 policy instituted by WVU President David C. Hardesty, Jr. The "Policy on Freedom of Expression" restricted student expression and assembly to designated areas on and around the university campus and granted university administrators the right to discipline individuals who spoke out or assembled in areas outside the "free expression areas." Institute attorneys argued that the policy was aimed at restricting dissent rather than regulating student activity and asked the court to declare the policy unconstitutional and enjoin university officials from future enforcement of such blanket policies restricting free speech and assembly.

Put into effect on April 1, 2002, the "Policy on Freedom of Expression" restricted "protests and demonstrations" to designated "Free Expression Areas," comprising less than five percent of the total campus area, which were to be used for the purpose of "peaceful dissent, protest or demonstration." The policy also classified speech activities into five categories: symbolic speech, posting signs, distributing literature, picketing and protests and demonstrations. Many areas traditionally considered appropriate for public expression, including several main campus buildings, as well as extensive portions of the grounds around the campus, the student center, and the building that houses the offices for the campus newspaper, did not fall within the policy's free-speech zones. For example, if members of the Students for Economic Justice desired to protest and demonstrate against corporate globalization, they would have been prohibited from doing so in the vicinity of the Business and Economics Department. The policy would also have prevented African-American students from protesting in the vicinity of the Center for Black Culture and Research.

"The Rutherford Institute is pleased that the Board of Governors has reconsidered the unconstitutional ramifications of its free expression policy," said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. "We will continue to monitor the situation on campus for positive signs that the school intends to follow through with the revised policy."

The Rutherford Institute is an international, nonprofit civil liberties organization committed to defending constitutional and human rights.

Press Contact

Nisha Whitehead
(434) 978-3888 ext. 604